Let’s Not Do This

And so the end of the year once more approaches. It's a time to reflect on the year gone by. More than that, a time to reflect on the substantial part of your life gone by and to gaze ahead at the limited time left to_

Sod it.

No.

Let’s not do this. Not this year.



I’m talking to myself here, not you. You can do whatever the hell you feel.

It’s just a thing I tend to do at this time of year. This ‘Looking Back Wistfully and Looking Forward a Little Nervously’ thing. It’s a game I’d rather not play this year, if it’s all the same to you.

I think it relates to a habit of mine. Somebody once told me it’s a tiny bit OCD but I don’t know much about that. It's this; I always tend to ‘count days down’. I always know the moment when the midpoint, the zenith, of any timescale is reached and when the latter, downward, part of that timescale begins. It’s most noticeable during holidays like this one. We’re well over the midpoint of the Christmas Holidays now and descending rapidly back into ‘work-city’. Everybody know this but most, I reckon, are not as acutely aware of it as I am.

This whole ‘awareness of time and where one is in it’ thing can come to a head in this week of the year, as the old year ends and the new year_

Stop it!

(Sorry.)

The 'blogging' thing doesn’t help very much either. When you commit yourself to producing a blog post a week, you (well, ‘I’. Swap ‘you’ for ‘I’ in all of this) inevitably fall back on the ‘excessively introspective’ and even the ‘maudlin’ from time to time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to look back and it’s good to consider and mull-over and think about stuff.

It’s just not so good to do it too much.

And this time of year almost demands it of us, doesn’t it? The year is dying. One more year of our increasingly limited quota receding into the mists of history. Vanishing into_

No. No. No. Stop.

(Sorry)

This year, I would like to try to cast my vision forward rather than backwards. A new year is just around the corner. A year to be seized rather than gingerly grasped. A year that can easily be done better than last year, if I only try. There are obstacles, for sure, mountains to climb. (I sound like Diana Ross now) Some of them seem to be almost insurmountable from this current vista. But I know I’ll get there. (And now I sound like Chris Rea… damn!).

I think we spend too much of our time pondering the way we have come and the way forward. Better, perhaps, that we just travel the road rather than analysing what it’s made of. Onwards, fearlessly, into 2014. What will be, will be and it will be down to us to do the best we can with it.

So bring it on!

That’s it. Now don’t use a bloody hourglass as your image for the top of this post… okay?

Okay.



The Last Real Magic

I must confess that there have been times in my life when I had my doubts about Santa Claus. Not any more though. I turned fifty this year and I have finally got it all sorted out in my head again.

I no longer have any doubt. Santa Claus exists.

Of course, if you’re below a certain age, and you happen to be reading this, you will just say, “Duh, of course Santa exists, what’s this dude on about?” 

Quite right too. It’s just that, as the years go on from childhood, through teens and into early adulthood, some doubts can come creeping in. Those ageing, increasingly hairy, folk get a little bound up in the irrelevant technicalities associated with the great one. Things such as; how does he carry all those presents? How does he cover the whole world in one night? How does he actually get down the chimney? These rather trivial matters become magnified as the teen years go by until, in early adulthood, they start to foster a bit of cynicism and then sometimes, rather amazingly, a sense of disbelief.

But the kids know. The kids always have it sussed and now, at fifty, I’m pleased to say that I do too. I've been away from the fold for a while but I’m back now and this time I think I’m going to stay.

Santa exists. He really does. 

I’ll go further, if you’ll let me. I’ll go so far as to say that Santa Claus represents possibly the last piece of actual full-blown magic left in this world of ours. 

In older times, there was lots and lots of magic around but not any more. Magic, you see, is a rather curious thing. It doesn't just exist of itself, like, say, a Cloud or a Bus or even a Meerkat does. Not at all. Magic has to be ‘Evoked’. That’s why there was so much of it around in older times. People had more time on their hands and more energy for evoking things. In fact, I reckon those olden-days-people would have been getting together around their sparking fires and evoking magical things practically all of the time. Much of what they would have been evoking could perhaps have been defined as ‘Spirits’. There were lots of Spirits and lots of magical-evoking back then, not so much of it now. 

That’s effectively what Santa Claus is, you see. He’s the direct descendant of one of those old fashioned spirits our forefathers used to evoke on those darkest of Winter nights. 

This is actually one of the reasons that we tend to fall out of belief for a while as we get some metaphorical hair on our chins. It’s because spirits are notoriously hard to pin down and not at all easy to define. The very word – ‘Spirit’ – kind of gives it away. It suggests an amorphous thing, something not easily seen or grabbed or held on to. No less real for all that. Just a bit harder to believe in.

We've done what we always do, whenever we modern people try to nail a spirit down. We've given it a long white beard and a subtle benevolence and an implied wealth of wisdom and power. Yes, we've done the ‘God’ thing on it.

So the kids have it completely right, as usual. On Christmas Eve Night, on this very Christmas Eve Night, Santa will come. He will come because we, all of us who choose to partake, will evoke him, just like our distant ancestors evoked him under different names. We will evoke him as we deliberately shut out the everyday world, dim our lights, light our candles, drink a little more that we usually would on a Wednesday night, leave out some rudimentary food, tuck our expectant children up in their beds and remind them quietly of the old ways and the magic about to unfold.

If just one of us did this, it wouldn't work. Neither with two nor three. But millions together will evoke the Spirit of Christmas, past and present, on Christmas Eve. And the Spirit will come.

Not everybody has to play, not everybody has to believe, it’s fine, there’ll be enough people on the night who will. There’ll be enough to make the magic happen all over again.

Of course we all know that Santa comes for the children, not for us fifty year old types. We know all that. But the Spirit of Christmas has many names. You don’t have to be surrounded by friends or in the bosom of your family. You don’t have to even be happy or contented. You don’t have to be healthy or without pain. Your Spirit may not be a jolly man with a beard, it may not be a new born child. It’s your Spirit, after all, it can be whatever you want.

If you wish, you too can evoke the Spirit of Christmas. Treat yourself in some small way, see that you are warm and sheltered. Step out of the year for one last time before it goes away. But don’t expect it to come if you don’t work at it a little. A Spirit is not something that just comes for you, you have to evoke it.

This post will probably sound naive at best, heretic at worst, but it’s just my own attempt to pin down something that is rather flimsy and ever so slightly whimsical. Something that I have nonetheless come to believe. Namely, that there is still a little magic abroad in this world and that, on Christmas Eve, with so many of our souls pointed in the same direction, we can actually make a little of it happen.

Right there, among all the gaudy tinsel, the commercialism, the pressure, the loneliness, the heartache, the pain, if we believe hard enough...

… Santa will come.




Three Random Christmas Things

I’ve told you before about how I like Christmas time. In particular, I like that insular, ‘hibernating’, feeling that comes with it, for me at least. 

My Christmas is certainly not any kind of social whirl. In fact it’s the exact opposite of that, it’s a rather lengthy ‘quiet time’ and, as it now approaches, I can’t bloody wait for it.

But the devil’s in the details, as they say. So what do I like, specifically, about Christmas time? Well, I like loads and loads of things. When you like something, you often like lots of things about it. But that’s not any kind of answer so here are three random things I like about Christmas.

First up, the Christmas double issue of The Radio Times. I have it here on my desk now, snowmen, snowdogs and Santa all bursting out at me. I’ve been getting the Radio Times ever since I was a boy in Sligo. We were geographically-lucky-enough to get British radio signals which bled over the border from Northern Ireland so the BBC has thankfully always been a part of my life. So, yeah, the double Radio Times has always been a thing for me. Oddly, though, it isn’t so much the thing itself as the promise that it makes. 

I got this year’s copy during the week when it appeared on the shop shelf. There was a delight in seeing it. It’s like a good omen, a big fat invitation to a party. Don’t get me wrong, I use it a lot, every day, to see what I should watch and what I should listen to but I don’t tend to read the features or do the quizzes or anything like that. It’s like the opposite of that other magazine… I don’t get it for the articles. 

Second up, the afternoon when the Christmas holiday begins. I usually finish work at lunch time on the day before Christmas Eve and I love the afternoon that ensues. There is a falling away of tension, combined with a glorious feeling of a leisurely voyage about to commence. Yum. There is no set routine for how this afternoon goes. One year I spent it wrestling with lights on a tree in the back garden, another year I watched Million Dollar Baby. It’s no particular thing, it’s just a feeling.

Finally, in this short list of random things, the Christmas Day walk. Lots of people do Christmas Day walks and I do the one they do too. The one after the Christmas dinner, with the family, to work off a bit of the grub and to better-appreciate the warmth and dryness of the house when you get back in. That’s a great walk but I don’t mean that one. I mean the second walk I do. 

After Doctor Who is over and we’re into the (for me) Strictly Come Dancing dead zone of the evening, I get coated-up again and I walk out and around the town. It’s an ultra, super quiet time of the day, especially here in Ireland where everything is closed on Christmas Day, so I practically have the whole town to myself. Not that I do anything weird with it, I just look around. For an hour or so, I gently pace the deserted streets, nod to the very few people I meet, and just breathe the air. With everybody safely boxed-up in their houses, the whole town has a sort of a ‘parallel dimension’ feel to it. I feel a bit like George Bailey, striding through a world that is his own but yet somehow at the same time is not his own. The most memorable of these walks was three years ago when the whole world froze completely solid. That year, there was nobody at all to nod to. Literally, not a creature was stirring. 

And when I get back to the house after this solitary Christmas walk, the place is invariably all the warmer, all the safer, all the more-welcoming. 

Then I’ll have a bottle of beer or two and a couple of Cadbury's Roses.

Sorted. 

The Doctor’s Teddy Bear

For over forty years, the doctor’s teddy bear sat alone on his chair in the corner of the surgery. It seems unlikely but it’s true. 

It was a small enough room, the surgery that the doctor and the teddy shared. Just a desk and a rotating chair, a couch to lie-and-be-examined upon, a weighing scales, two chairs for patients and the extra chair in the corner that the teddy bear sat on. That was pretty much it. 

For over forty years, the doctor and his bear had seen all of the thousands of patients who had come and gone. The infantile and the elderly, the genuine and the fakers alike. They had given their ear equally to all.

After the first few months, the doctor did not even know that the bear existed. Even when a child came in and picked it up to play with it, the doctor was always too focused on the matter in hand to remark on his career companion serving his purpose. For this indeed was his purpose, to distract and entertain the sickly children when they came to be seen. Back in the earliest days, the doctor’s wife had quietly remarked on the austere conditions in her husband’s surgery and so had bought the bear in a second hand shop in a nearby town. She had put him sitting on the spare chair one afternoon and the doctor has raised an eyebrow at her and she had shrugged in return and that was it. The bear was in.

Shop bears do not have any feelings, of course. Those bears who sit on shelves and wait to be bought are nothing more than what they may seem to be. A stitched-together collation of cotton wool and fake fur, of glassy eyes and scrap-fabric-scarves. They have no sentiency. They have no feeling.

But the doctor’s teddy bear was a different matter entirely. Before it had ended up in the second hand shop, and before the doctor’s wife had found it, the bear had been a beloved toy to a succession of brothers and sisters in the house of a large rural family. As we all know, the constant handling, caressing and affection bestowed by a child effects a change on the soulless store-bought toy. The particles of skin and hair, the molecules of humanity, not to mention the warmth of emotion that is bestowed, all of these things instil a modicum of life and knowledge into a toy. It doesn’t show itself in any visible way. Of course not, how could it? But it is there nonetheless, a spark of something.

And the doctor’s teddy bear had soaked up more life than most. Years upon years of hugs and care and night time saliva kisses had left the bear with a vibrant hum of life about it. An ability to taste its surroundings. A dubious talent for feeling warmth or lack of it. 

And this was a dubious talent indeed for, ever since the old woman had died and it had gone to the second hand shop, there had been a pronounced lack of warmth in the low wattage life of the doctor’s teddy bear. 

Mostly the bear was dormant, untouched save for a brief lift from the cleaner when she came in on Tuesday nights to make her sweep of the surgery. Like the doctor, the regular children had become impartial to the presence of the bear. Nobody touched it, nobody saw it. It sat and witnessed the comings and goings of the day and the unremitting darkness of the long nights.

Today was no different beyond the fact that it was the end of days. The doctor was to see his last patient today and then he would retire to a life of gardening and golf and leisurely breakfasts. He had been on call to his country clientele, day and night, for the best part of his life and he deserved the early release. Most of the paraphernalia of the surgery had been removed and boxed up. The incoming doctor had a new surgery. This place would fall to cobwebs and dust over the coming years, It had nothing more to do.

“What about him?” 

His daughter had come to help him on this last day. There would be a steady stream of people in to the surgery, very few of them sick. They would come to pay their respects, leave a bottle of amber liquid, wish well and shuffle away. There was a dinner planned for the evening, just family and a few close friends.

“What about what?”

“Him, the bear. What will I do with him?”

The doctor looked up over the top of his reading glasses and, for the first time in decades, he gave some of his attention to his teddy bear. The bear felt the warmth generated by his gaze.

“Ack. Throw him in the bin. There’s no more use for him.”

The bear felt little. Just the faintest sense of the earlier heat drifting away. The daughter lifted the bear and tossed him into a black plastic rubbish sack, along with the health posters from the walls and the broken stethoscopes, then she took the bag and left it out for the bin men.

The bin men come early in these country parts. At 5.30 am, on the morning after his retirement dinner, they pulled up outside the doctors front garden and started to throw the black bags onto the back of their wagon. It was more rubbish that they would normally accept but most of them owed some debt to the doctor so they didn’t grumble.

The doctor heard the hiss of the bin lorry’s hydraulic breaks and he sat up in his bed. He looked at the cold place where his wife had lain for so many years and he shook his head to clear it.

“You fool,” he said to himself, “you old fool.”

He bolted down the stairs and shouted at the bin men to wait, wait. There was only one bag left, it dangled in the hand of the oldest bin man, himself overdue for retirement.

“Wait, just wait a minute.”

The doctor snatched the bag from the bemused bin man and tore it open. Health posters, an old stethoscope… there he was, impervious as ever, the old bear.

“There you are, my old pal.” The doctor whispered then he noted the bin man’s stare. “For my granddaughter, you know, she was quite attached…”

“Of course, doctor, happy retirement sir.”

Then they were gone. 

The doctor stood at his front gate in the early morning mist and he looked at the bear and the bear, in his own subtle way, looked back at him.

“There’s a place for you,” the doctor said, “we need never speak of it, my old friend, but there is a warm place for you.”

Then they went inside to breakfast. 




Close the Door

It’s Christmas Eve
Let’s close the door
And do the things
We've done before
Dim the lights
Trim the tree
Christmas Eve
Just you and me

It’s Christmas Eve
Just you and me
Let’s make it like
It used to be
Draw the blinds
Close the door
And do the things
We've done before

It’s Christmas Eve
Switch off the phone
We’ll spend the night
All on our own
Light the fire
Watch it glow
Christmas Eve
Let’s take it slow


Envy

So I was driving along, one day recently, and there was this discussion on the radio about Facebook. I was only half listening to it but I did hear enough to distractedly remark to myself about how sexist it all sounded. 

Basically, the person on the radio was saying that people should beware of Facebook because it can cause Envy in some people. Particularly, the person said, in women who see their friends in enviable situations such as steady relationships, married-with-children, nice houses… all that jazz. 

Like I said, it all sounded a bit condescending and, yes, sexist to me so I switched over to some classical music station and let it go.

For a while.

The discussion came bouncing back into my head a few days later. This would be a better piece if I had some neat inciting incident which caused me to revisit the discussion but there wasn’t anything like that. It just reappeared.

What it was, though, was a kind of a little epiphany. A very little one but, still, we take them where we find them, don’t we?

“That’s me,” I thought, suddenly, out of nowhere, “that’s me. I’m like the housewife, the single lady, all those sexist simplistic stereotypes. I Have Envy.”

That was it. I had never thought of it before I had heard that silly radio discussion and suddenly I just knew it was true. The rather-sexist radio person had a point after all. His point was about me. I suffer from Envy.

It’s a silly thing. An embarrassing thing to admit, in truth, but if I don’t push for some modicum of truth now and again, what the hell am I doing here? So, yes, Envy, me, I suffer.

It’s a particular kind of Envy, the one I have. I don’t Envy you your husband or your wife. I don’t envy you your Porsche or your big house or your fifteen foot telly screen. I don’t envy your status or your money or your nice face, sparking wit, or svelte figure. None of the above.

What, then, Ken, what do you Envy?

I Envy the writers.

There I’ve said it now. It’s out.

On Twitter and also, to a lesser extent on Facebook, I follow/friend/whatever a considerable number of professional writers. I’ve always loved to watch them write, virtually, across the Social Media Interface. I’ve learned stuff from them too, about productivity and procrastination and just the business of writing. It’s been great. 

But there’s been this subtext, all of my own making, and the silly sexist radio person made me think about it. I Envy them what they have made for themselves. Oh, and let’s not confuse Envy with Begrudgery. The writers I know got there by virtue of their own sweat, talent, and perseverance. They have my respect… and my Envy too.

This is odd. It’s especially odd given that I am a writer myself and, although it’s taken me years to be confident enough to say it of myself, I am a writer. It is doubly-especially odd given the afternoon I had yesterday where one of my theatre plays, ‘Midnight in the Theatre of Blood’ was launched onto the National Stage by a hugely enthusiastic cohort of actors and audience members. As has so-often been the case, I got to see my writing performed and enjoyed and, yes, even celebrated. I am a writer. I’ve had round-and-about ten different theatre plays produced and performed, some of them in a number of different productions, I’ve has a similar number of radio plays, I’ve been on telly and on the radio, I’ve… I could go on. Yet, still with the Envy, Ken? An Envy of writers when you, yourself, are a writer too? How can this be? Where is the sense in it?

The key to it is in one aspect of those Writer’s lives, those ones I follow on my computer. I don’t Envy them their glamour lifestyle or their vast hoards of money, mostly because I know that neither really exist. I don’t Envy them the kudos they receive or the critical acclaim or even the lie-ins they can perhaps have on certain mornings.

Really and truly. I only Envy them in one respect.

Time.

I Envy them their time.

They are professional writers. That means they have time that they can legitimately allocate to writing. God, how I Envy them for that. I am a professional… something else, so the writing I do is snatched from the scraps of the day that remain when all other things are done. Those late hours of the night when every other person, and every other concern, is sleeping.

And I get it done. We can’t accept our excuses that there is no time to write. There is always time and I find it because I have to but, golly, it’s hard to bind a piece of writing together when it’s produced in stolen moments. The work itself tends to reflect the time available to create it, short, patchy, intermittent. 

Imagine the luxury to sit and stare then write and write and write again. To let it grow and flower in the light of day.

I Envy that but I’ll get over it. 

I think everybody probably envies something. Don't you?